Systematic Use of Fertilizers Can Save Forests, Fight Climate Change - Study
As the world grapples with the challenges of feeding an ever-growing population, findings from a recent research by International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), showed that science-based farming methods integrating the systematic use of fertilizers by farmers can significantly reduce the need to clear forest land for agriculture.
Findings of the research, published in the latest issue of Environmental Management Journal, also showed that the use of fertilizers and improved cocoa varieties by smallholder farmers could have averted the destruction of some 2.1 million hectares of the Guinean forest of West Africa and the subsequent emission of 1.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere valued at over $1.6 billion.
According to a statement made available to LEADERSHIP in Abuja by the institute on the study, "at the beginning of the 21st century, only 18 per cent of the original forest that once stretched from Guinea to Cameroon remained.
"This forest is one of the 25 global biodiversity hotspots identified by the UN and collectively contains 60 per cent of all animal and plant species on the planet. Through the years, most of the forest area had been converted to farmlands with a large chunk of it comprised of smallholdings growing cocoa, cassava, and oil palm."
The research, looking into the land use change scenarios in Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon from 1998 to 2007, found that although cocoa production doubled more in West Africa during the period, it came at a huge cost - the irreversible loss of biodiversity and enormous carbon emission.
Proponents of the study say that the same output would have been possible with little or no increase in the land area by using improved varieties and following fertilizer use recommendations developed by agricultural researchers in the 60s.
Jim Gockowski, agricultural economist with IITA and one of the researchers, said that smallholder farmers cannot continue to expand their enterprises with low-input extensive agriculture. "With the reduction of the Guinean forests to 15 -20 per cent of its original size and the tripling of populations in these countries, there is absolutely no more room for expansion.
"Strategies to reduce deforestation and conserve biodiversity must focus on reforming agricultural practices and weaning farmers from traditional to modern science-based methods," he said.
The project "Fertiliser-for-Forests has proven that it is possible to increase crop production with little or no effect on the environment." This study further recommended that Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), climate change mitigation programs must address low agricultural productivity by investing in intensification of agriculture.
By doing this, the study said, farmers would not only have better incomes but also produce more food while reducing carbon emissions. Its study also identified and called for solutions to lack of credit facilities, an underdeveloped agrochemical /fertilizer sector, inadequate seed multiplication, poor roads, and weak extension systems.